Kevin Drum Smackdown Watch

| Fri May 8, 2009 12:18 PM EDT

The IMF says U.S. banks need $275 billion in new capital.  Tim Geithner says they need $75 billion.  Or, to be more accurate, that's what I said the IMF and Tim Geithner said.  James Surowiecki says I got it wrong:

The confusion here is understandable, but this is a mistake....The Fed’s estimate, as seen in the stress-test results, was that, as of the end of 2008, the nineteen biggest U.S. banks required $185 billion in new equity. That number is now $75 billion because, over the last four months, via things like restructuring, asset sales, and Citigroup’s conversion of preferred stock to equity, the banks have raised around $110 billion in equity. But the apples-to-apples comparison is that the I.M.F. estimate was $275 billion, the Fed’s $185 billion.

The I.M.F.’s estimate, though, is for the banking system as a whole, while the Fed’s is just for the nineteen biggest banks. Those banks have about two-thirds of the banking system’s assets, so if capital needs are distributed proportionally, then the Fed’s estimate suggests that the banking system needs just about, yes, $275 billion — a number that’s identical to the I.M.F. estimate.

Can we please fix the economy so I can go back to writing about simple stuff like rescuing the healthcare system and keeping the planet from turning into a cinder?  Thanks.

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